I know how zoo animals feel. You see, I’ve walked into an auto parts store alone.
Everybody in the store stares. The counter guys approach with that what-did-your-husband-send-you-to-get? attitude. Hey—there are lots of women who know our ways around cars! Okay, I can’t rebuild an engine, but I can fix things a lot of men can’t.
I decided a long time ago that I was not going to be a helpless female. I’ve changed sparkplugs, put in a radiator fan, and shown several men how to use jumper cables. Then there was the carburetor in our old van. Many times I had to pull the cowl and hold the butterfly open to get the beast to start. When my fuel filter recently became clogged, my mechanic told me where it was on my car and said, “You’ve done harder things. You can handle this.”
Good old Bob. He once said he ought to hire me to do diagnostics. He’s found that his female customers can often describe the sounds and shudders of a problem better than a man. He just chuckles when I call to check on a repair. “Yeah, you were right again.”
I was getting my oil changed recently. (Some things aren’t worth doing at home.) The technician approached me like an orderly sent to tell me I had cancer.
“Uh, ma’am, you have a fuel leak.”
I know he expected hysteria. I got out of the car and asked to see where.
“Oh, yeah,” I nodded. “That’s the line to the fuel filter. It was rather old. Must have weakened it when my daughter and I changed that out.” I loved the looks on their faces.
Well, you don’t procrastinate with a fuel leak, so I drove straight to the auto parts store. I got that look when I walked in. I bought the tubing, went to the parking lot and started to work.
Then he showed up. Jeans, cowboy boots, a tank shirt and lots of chains, topped with a Stetson.
“You need help, ma’am?” I was struggling to get the old, heat-hardened line off and said so.
“Well why didn’t you ask for help?” he asked. He shook his head. “You’re just like my ex-wife.”
Women should be helpless, huh? Never attempt to do things on their own? No wonder she was his ex.
I got out my pocketknife and continued to work.
Mr. Macho didn’t stick around long. I saw his true colors when he went inside and got one of the boys from the store to be my hero, then roared off in his oversized pickup.
The kid made a cut in the hose all right—exactly the one I was trying to avoid making—the one that left a tiny, hard-to-remove ring of rubber around the fuel filter inlet. He also splashed gas in his eye. I sent him in to take care of that while I cut away the rest of the tubing and finished the job. All I needed after that was a place to wash my hands.
Looking at me as if I were wearing a caped costume, the clerks inside the store pointed me to their washroom, where they kept a large container of hand cleaner. As I scrubbed my hands, I noticed their hopelessly grimy sink. I couldn’t resist taking a little of the cleaner and rubbing the stains. “What they really need is….” I stopped myself. This wasn’t my job. Besides, I didn’t think they could take any more female competence that day.